Remaining commissioners unaware of survey being conducted during interview of appliant for administrator
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
County commissioners are scheduled to meet with candidates for the soon to be vacant administrator position this week, and those interviews included meeting department heads.
Last week, however, as one of the candidates was receiving a tour of the county, department heads also received a packet of papers from commissioner C.J. Wettstein. Those papers were a survey asking the department heads their opinions about the county administrator position.
At Monday’s commission meeting, chairman Jim Rice set the record straight by stating the survey was the doing of Wettstein and no other commissioners were aware of it.
“Last Wednesday, during our interview, in that one-hour period,” Rice said. “I had three calls from folks wanting to know what this survey was all about and if the commissioners had changed their minds and what we were doing. That particular time, I wasn’t aware that anything was going on.”
Rice said having the survey in front of the department heads, particularly on the day of a candidate interview, did not look good for the county.
“He did have some comments about whether he wanted to consider the job or not,” he said of the candidate being interviewed. “He was unsure of that position remaining to be there.”
Earlier this year, the commission voted 4-1 to proceed with hiring an administrator, with Wettstein voting against. That vote came following the resignation of current administrator Mary Bloomer, which will take effect May 10.
Rice said the county has pushed on in the direction of hiring an administrator, but he feels there always seem to be road blocks in place. After being notified of the survey, the chairman sent a memo to department heads to let them know that the survey was not an action of the board.
“Since that time, there’s been an article in the paper, and (today), we have an interview with another individual for the administration position,” Rice said. “It kind of concerns me that he’ll be wondering how serious we are.”
Wettstein said in the questionnaire was a box to mark if a person chose to not participate.
“I was just wanting to get an opinion from department heads as to what they actually thought about the county administrator position,” he said. “If most of our department heads actually think we need an administrator, then maybe I need to look at reevaluating my thinking, and you wouldn’t have to worry about me.”
Wettstein said the survey merely contained questions he wanted to ask about the administrator position.
“I have an opinion,” he said. “I think it doesn’t hurt to talk to our department heads. That’s my opinion. I’ve kind of been told we’re not supposed to talk to department heads, but I still like responses. The newspaper deal was just a response to somebody else’s position. I just wanted to ask our department heads what their opinion was. I got some of them back. Some of them I didn’t, and I did get their opinion.”
Commissioner Doug LaFreniere said he was not aware of the survey, and he believes there is a difference between having an opinion and taking action on that opinion.
“The action you took by giving out surveys without the board’s consent puts the department heads in an awkward situation,” he said to Wettstein. “They’re being asked to undermine what the commission has already voted for. They’re opinions. We’ve got a serious problem in here, and it’s a management structure problem. Department heads are being undermined. The administrator’s undermined. I see a big issue here, and it needs strong leadership.”
For this reason, LaFreniere said the best thing for the commission to do is support department heads and the administrator, and this is what he plans to do. It can only be accomplished, he said however, by keeping all county personnel in the know.
“That’s why you’ve got to keep people in the loop,” he said. “If you’re going to send out a survey, ask us, too. We’re on the board. You’ve put the employees and the department heads in a position where to me it looks like they’re undermining my authority.”
LaFreniere said commissioners may disagree on a topic, but this does not mean board members are allowed to undermine the decision of the group.
“We’re a board,” LaFreniere said. “We can sit here and disagree all night, but by the time the meeting’s over, we’ve voted on the direction to go. That’s paramount to me. You don’t undermine your management team, and that’s got to stop. We’ve got to support each other. It’s just got to stop, and we’ve got to fix it.”
Rice corrected Wettstein, stating commissioners can talk to department heads, something the chairman said he does on nearly a daily basis.
“I’ve never had any trouble with that,” Rice said. “There might be a difference between talking to department heads and offering suggestions or seeing how things are getting along and giving directions. In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve talked to many department heads many times, and I’ve never had any trouble doing that or any repercussions as a result of it.”
Commissioner Ada Linenbroker said she felt the timing of the survey was also inappropriate.
“You go around the day that we’re taking one of our candidates around to meet the department heads, and to have this survey you hand delivered to all the department heads, that doesn’t look good,” she said. “We’re wanting them to meet this guy and get to know him so they can get an opinion so we can get the feedback from them, and you hand them this survey that they’re looking at.”
Linenbroker said the survey does not present the right kind of look for the county, particularly for the perspective candidates for the administrator position.
“If you wanted to do the survey, you should’ve done it a long time ago when they first started talking about this, not to wait till when we’re trying to bring somebody in and give them a good look at what our department heads are, not people sitting there going, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ It just wasn’t kosher to do it that day,” she said.